Financials nudge FTSE to one-week closing high as U.S. earnings reassure

Reuters
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By Tricia Wright

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top shares rose to a one-week closing high on Thursday after upbeat U.S. results from Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs drove up financials and allayed investor concerns about the current earnings season.

Morgan Stanley shares gained after it unveiled a rise in first-quarter earnings, while Goldman Sachs advanced after it reported an 11 percent drop in profits but beat expectations.

Fund manager Schroders, up 4.2 percent, and Barclays, 3.8 percent firmer, led gains in UK financials, which helped push the broader FTSE 100 index up 41.08 points, or 0.6 percent, to 6,625.25 points, its highest close since April 10.

"The strong banking numbers are obviously a key driver, especially for the FTSE which is cyclically led, and I think there's just a general sense that we might be coming into a period of slightly stronger numbers now," said Matt Basi, head of sales trading at CMC Markets.

Barclays' advance came as its Chief Executive Antony Jenkins embarked on the third review of its investment bank, with analysts predicting that this might lead to a cut in the division's size of up to 20 percent.

A fresh media report about the review gave Barclays a fillip on Thursday.

The Sky News report cited a memo sent to staff by Jenkins, in which he said he wanted to set out a clear path to build a better Barclays that can deliver sustainable returns and growth.

"If he's (Jenkins is) being proactive about cutting jobs, I think that's a good thing," said Manoj Ladwa, head of trading at TJM Partners.

TURNAROUND OPTIMISM

RSA Insurance climbed 2.3 percent after selling operations in the Baltics and Poland for a total of 348 million euros (286 million pounds), the latest step by Chief Executive Stephen Hester to turn the insurer around.

Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers, said the deal was good for RSA, valuing the units at above market estimates of 16 times 2013 pre-tax profit and 1.2 times premiums.

A drop in drinks group Diageo limited the FTSE 100's gains. Its shares fell 3.7 percent after weakness in its Chinese market led to lower third-quarter sales.

The FTSE 100, which rose 14.4 percent last year, is down by about 2 percent since the start of 2014.

The index reached a peak of 6,867 points in January, around its highest levels since early 2000, but has since dropped on concerns over a slump in emerging markets and fears over fallout from tensions between Russia and Western powers over Ukraine.

Strand Capital managing director Kyri Kangellaris saw the FTSE stuck in a range of 6,500-6,850 points, as long as it failed to break above its January high of 6,867 points and last year's peak of about 6,876.

"We're looking rangebound for the near term," he said.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Andrew Roche)

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